Black Models Still a Rare Sight on Catwalks
I’m an admitted shopaholic. I’ll spend my last dollar on a great designer handbag or a good-fitting pair of jeans. I devour virtually every fashion magazine and clip pictures of my favorite looks. I even buy pricey European fashion magazines. And I’ve recently started buying my ten-year-old daughter pieces from J. Crew’s fabulous Crew Cuts For Kids.
So, the other day on National Public Radio (NPR), a story about New York Fashion Week 2011 caught my attention. Pulitzer Prize–winning fashion writer Robin Givhan, one of a small group of black fashion editors, was interviewed about the continuing lack of black models in top designer fashion shows. This unfortunate trend also carries over to lucrative cosmetic contracts and other fashion advertising. It’s not hard to see that while some progress has been made, the industry is still primarily interested in white models. In a piece for New York magazine called, “Why Fashion Keeps Tripping Over Race,” (February 16, 2011), Givhan astutely writes that when it comes to race, “the fashion community tends to play dumb or be disingenuous.”
Essence magazine reports that in March 2010, Jezebel.com released its annual tally of models of color walking runways and found that about 16 percent of the nearly 4,000 models hired at New York Fashion Week were women of color. Of that figure, only 8 percent were black.
My favorite designer is Prada. I love Prada’s minimal, well-crafted, timeless pieces. Their clothes fit me perfectly and I always feel great wearing them. Well, my Prada obsession has effectively ended now that Givhan has enlightened me by writing, “In fact, when the black model Jourdan Dunn appeared in 2008 in what had been up until then a relentlessly all-white Prada show, I marveled in my blog: ‘Black girl walking!’ It was the first time in more than a decade that I recalled seeing a black model in one of Miuccia Prada’s shows.”
For me, as an African American Prada customer, this is too much to handle. I just bought my last Prada dress in December. Farewell, my beautiful Prada. It’s a good thing the Prada pieces I own will last a long, long time!
In 2003, history was made when the stunning Ethopian model Liya Kebede landed a lucrative and prominent Estee Lauder Cosmetics contract, making her the first black model to represent the company. I immediately went out to buy a collection of Estee Lauder makeup. Not because I love Estee Lauder (although their products turned out to be great), but because I wanted to applaud their bold decision to hire Liya. I sent the message with my wallet.
The NPR story and Givhan’s piece in New York magazine started me thinking about the lack of models of color … again. It’s an issue I haven’t really focused on for some time. But, it’s 2011 and the fashion industry is still under-representing models of color. Why? I can name my favorite models and Liya is at the top of the list. So are Chanel Iman and Joan Smalls (she’s Puerto Rican). Why should I, an African American woman—and admitted shopaholic—spend money on designers who refuse to hire models of color? The answer is that I shouldn’t and I won’t.
There is good news, however. According to Givhan, “Now black models are on the upswing, with Liya Kebede, Chanel Iman, Sessilee Lopez, and Jourdan Dunn among them.”
Starting with my next purchase, I will look carefully at the designers who do work with diverse models. The same way some consumers scrutinize labels for organic content or grams of fat, I’ll be looking at magazine ads, runway shows, and cosmetic contracts for models of color. Oh, and those fashion magazines who refuse to feature black models of color on the covers: bye-bye!
I’ve always been an equal opportunity shopper. I love Prada handbags and dresses, J. Crew jackets, Diane Von Furstenberg anything. But, if upon further investigation my favorite designers aren’t equal opportunity employers and won’t use models that reflect diversity, this shopaholic will hastily abandon them, as they have abandoned me.